Joe Walsh, shown with bassist Larry Young, will headline the Doheny Blues Festival on May 20. (Photo by Armando Brown, contributing photographer)
Melissa Etheridge will headline the Doheny Blues Festival on May 21. (Photo by Armando Brown, contributing photographer)
Chris Isaak is performing at the Doheny Blues Festival for the first time (Photo by Bob Steshetz)
Moreland & Arbuckle, featuring, from left, singer Dustin Arbuckle, guitarist Aaron Moreland and drummer Kendall Newby, will play the Doheny Blues Festival as part of its farewell tour. (Photo by Bob Steshetz)
Mavis Staples, who also has played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, returns for another performance at the Doheny Blues Festival this year. (Photo by Bob Steshetz)
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience will perform at the Doheny Blues Festival this year. (Photo by Bob Steshetz)
Bobby Rush will perform at the Doheny Blues Festival (Photo by Bob Steshetz)
The Doheny Blues Festival returns to Doheny State Beach in Dana Point for a 20th year on May 21-22. (Photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Before Coachella, Stagecoach and Kaaboo Del Mar festivals made their mark on the Southern California landscape, there was Orange County’s own Doheny Blues Festival.
The two-day music event celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and returns to Doheny State Beach in Dana Point May 20-21. Boasting three stages and a wide range of blues, roots, soul, classic rock and Americana artists, the festival includes Joe Walsh, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and Robin Trower on Saturday, and Melissa Etheridge, Chris Isaak, Mavis Staples and Moreland & Arbuckle on Sunday.
“Has it become harder (to produce our event)? Indeed, there is more competition than there was 20 years ago,” says Rich Sherman, president of festival organizer Omega Events. “What we found is that the competition isn’t necessarily what is happening in California, but every weekend on the calendar there is going to be a festival somewhere in North America, even the world. The real issue isn’t Coachella or Arroyo Seco (the latter a new festival coming to the Rose Bowl June 24-25), it might just be a great festival in North Carolina or Florida or Texas. And so the advent of music festivals as a whole has made it tough on scheduling.”
In addition, while Staples has been a featured performer at Coachella, the majority of artists on the bill at Doheny are not necessarily being targeted to play at the other large festivals in Southern California.
What stands out about the 20th anniversary celebration is how many names are appearing for the first time on the bill.
“We’ve tried to secure Joe Walsh several times in the past to play the festival, but that’s a complicated puzzle given (his role in) the Eagles. Joe was one of our early targets (for 2017). It’s an incredible opportunity to have him coming to Doheny State Beach for sure. And Melissa, she has had this new Stax Records tribute she was working on (“MEmphis Rock and Soul,” released in October), and she is very serious about the live show, adding horns and backup singers to her set at Doheny (May 21) to fully represent the Stax sound from Memphis.”
“Chris Isaak, we’ve never had him play the festival, so that’s exciting. He fits right in with all of the roots and rockabilly acts that have played in the past. It goes all the way through the list; Robin Trower has never played the festival before either,” said Sherman, noting the legendary Trower was seminal in the development of merging blues with rock as a member of Procol Harum in the 1960s and during his subsequent solo career.
Fans can expect unique sets from headliners such as Walsh and Etheridge, as well as exciting acts extending across the bill both days. For example, famed Americana country singer-guitar virtuoso Junior Brown will be the first act to appear on the intimate Backporch Stage on Sunday morning.
Another must-see act on Sunday is Wichita, Kansas-based Moreland & Arbuckle, whose line-up features members Dustin Arbuckle (lead vocals, harmonica), Aaron Moreland (guitar) and Kendall Newby (drums). The trio’s material is a perfect amalgam of Delta blues, Southern rock, country folk and Chicago sizzle. The Record Company is among the high-profile artists whose sound recalls the style that Moreland & Arbuckle’s created on their 2005 debut “Caney Valley Blues” and have continued to develop through to their celebrated 2016 album “Promised Land Or Bust” issued by Alligator Records.
“”For me, I felt like everything we did musically happened organically. We didn’t set out to create this style of music that melds Mississippi country blues and ‘stoner’ rock. We knew we had something special but we never really thought about it being influential on anyone else,” Dustin Arbuckle said in a recent phone interview.
The appearance is bittersweet, since Moreland & Arbuckle are performing their last-ever California date in Dana Point as part of their recently announced farewell tour.
“We want to enjoy these last handful of shows. We’ve had a good run,” said Arbuckle, who plans to continue to write, record and perform original music. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who have supported us for the past 15 years.”
Staples is another key performer on Sunday. Sherman noted that while the 77-year-old Staples is a legacy artist with a career stretching back to the 1950s, her approach is also contemporary. Staples is featured on the Arcade Fire single “I Give You Power” released in January 2017, and the more recent Gorillaz single “Let Me Out” issued last month.
“We’re proud to be a partner with Doheny State Beach and the California State Parks system to produce this event in such a spectacular setting,” Sherman said. “You can’t beat enjoying great live music on the beach, and the fans have always told us ‘please, keep the festival at Doheny State Beach,’ like we would ever consider leaving. Behind the scenes, we are proud to have invested in the infrastructure of the venue, having rebuilt many of the lighting structures inside the venue, so that locals can benefit from the event all through the year. Plus, we help to raise funds for the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, which operates the on-site visitors’ center, so this is truly a wonderful, long-term partnership.”
20th Anniversary Doheny Blues Festival
With: Joe Walsh, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, Robin Trower, Canned Heat and more (May 20); Melissa Etheridge, Chris Isaak, Mavis Staples, Bobby Rush, JJ Grey & Mofro, Moreland & Arbuckle and more (May 21)
When: May 20-21, 2017
Where: Doheny State Beach, Dana Point
Tickets: 1-day ($75) or 2-day ($140) general admission tickets; VIP and Gold passes are available for Sunday, May 21 ($150 and $250, respectively, with various amenities).
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